Skip to content

Reacting to cancer

July 1, 2014

When people receive a cancer diagnosis, they react in a number of different ways. Some panic or become angry; others get depressed. Online cancer forums contain many threads such as “I Can’t Stop Crying” and “Feeling So Depressed.” When I read these headings I momentarily wonder whether I’m in complete denial about my own cancer. Should I be more like them? Should I be miserable instead of enjoying each day?

But each cancer patient negotiates the terrain in his or her own way. Some are plunged into it kicking and screaming; others remain focused and calm. I am in the latter camp; I’m even relatively cheerful. This is because of what I’ve learned from friends who had cancer.

My two best friends from college both died of lung cancer. One of them shut herself off from others after her diagnosis, refusing to answer messages from loving friends who wanted to help. The other friend reached out to everyone she knew, seeking affection and support. The one who shut herself off died very quickly; but the one who reached out to others won a remission of more than a year despite the odds being 99% against her. Watching the way they lived and died was a powerful lesson to me, as was the courageous death of S.G., who when told that he had pancreatic cancer refused to undergo treatment. He told everyone “I’m 70, and I’ve had a good life. I’m ready to go.” He planned his own Celebration of Life while still alive, inviting fellow musicians and poets to share the stage with him, and afterwards he spent his remaining months taking a first-time-ever trip to Paris with his daughter, listening to jazz, teaching himself calculus, playing the flute and reading Buddhist sutras.

I learned a lot from these three friends who died. We all have the power to choose how we respond to the news that we are going to die. I approach the problem from a practical viewpoint: what response will do me the least harm and the most good? If I wallow in fear, rage or depression, that would be an obvious harm, not just to me but to all my family and friends. But if I maintain good spirits and courage, that boosts me upward, along with everyone else. The choice therefore becomes a simple one.

If we’re open to the idea, cancer can teach us valuable lessons. Because I know that my time on earth is finite, I now enjoy every day much more than I did a year ago—and believe me, my quality of life was pretty darned good twelve months ago. In some strange way my overall happiness factor has actually increased due to (or despite) the cancer. I don’t waste time playing computer solitaire the way I used to; I’m now focused on making the most of my remaining hours, and I’m happier as a result.

But the most important thing that cancer has taught me is that I’m an incredibly lucky human being. People might say, “How on earth can you think you’re lucky when you have cancer?!?” But it’s true nonetheless. To my mind it’s not so bad to bow out at a high point. If this cancer had happened to me years ago, I might be posting forum threads like “I Can’t Stop Crying” or “Feeling So Depressed.” But the past eleven years have been the happiest of my life. I still hold the best job I’ve ever had (homes journalist and photographer). I achieved my childhood dream of becoming a writer and an author! I’ve surmounted the inadequacies and fears that I suffered while young, and learned to enjoy life instead of wallowing around in self-doubt. I have a loving and supportive family and dear friends who mean the world to me. I have the best spouse and son that a person could hope for. I have absolutely nothing to complain about, for I’ve been exceptionally fortunate in my life.

As I told Dann Denny when he interviewed me for a feature in the Herald-Times, “Life has been a wonderful party, but even the best party must come to an end. It’s my intention to depart the party graciously when my time comes, with heartfelt thanks for being allowed to participate.”

From → Uncategorized

  1. YES YES YES.  The very best of life and spreading that best everywhere; seeing, feeling, thinking, and speaking it everywhere.    Love you, dear Carrol.  

    Best, Cynthia Cynthia Bretheim, MS, NCMT, LMT Therapeutic Massage & Holistic Health

    205 N College #717 (NW corner 6th & College) Bloomington, IN  47404 812.333.8858


  2. Chris Sturbaum permalink

    A friend of mine who was facing a similar situation
    liked to remind me that nobody gets out alive.
    That somehow cheered us both…..

    • Thanks Chris! A sense of humor in these fraught situations is always very useful; I’ve been watching lots of film comedies, which definitely helps with keeping a good attitude. —Thanks for reading and commenting!

  3. imagesbyrox permalink

    Thank you for putting it out there. You are a wonderful mirror, my friend.

  4. Laurie Bramhall permalink

    Your attitude and spirit never ceases to amaze me Carrol……luvya

  5. Inspirational and something we need to contemplate every day on our busy stressed-out lives.We always have to remind ourselves whether we’re ill or not, how lucky we are to witness the beauty in this beautiful world. Isn’t it funny how, as we age, we all become gardeners and bird watchers?May you have many more years of joy. I just came across you one day skipping around and thought I would follow you, You seem like you would be a soul sister of mine.

    • Gosh, thanks for following and reading, Karen! You’re guess is correct, I’m a sometime birder and a gardener who likes to experiment with strange plants, like cardoon and cotton. Also a “homes” journalist for my local newspaper, specializing in houses and gardens that are quirky, green, and/or unique. Thank you very much for your kind words! I go forth now, on this bright and dewy summer morning, to look for more moments of joy, as you advised. 🙂

  6. Dave Parsons permalink

    Carrol, thank you. By sharing you are helping all of us to understand aspects of illness, death and life and joy! I appreciate that you give the experience a human voice and bring this more openly into our social consciousness.
    Your former mulch-maker,
    Dave Parsons

    • Thanks very much for your kind words, Dave! I try hard to do what I do. 🙂
      Wishing you many happy years of mulch-making and helping people to grow beautiful gardens,

  7. Janas permalink

    Beautifully written, Carrol! I want to share your insights. let me know if thats alright! I love you! Thanks for coming over for lunch today! It was so lovely!

    • Thank you, Janas! Share away, that’s why I posted it publicly to begin with. Many thanks for reading it, and for your kind words! Thanks for a delicious lunch!

  8. Sonja Stotler permalink

    Thank you Carrol for being such a positive, life-changing influence in my life. I am truly blessed to be able to work with you each and every day. Continued hugs and prayers coming your way!

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Bloomington’s Carrol Krause, on her enlivening journey with cancer | Exopermaculture

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: